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Dialogue & Deliberation In Model United Nations

Throw 20 high schoolers in a room and give them eight hours to form coalitions and solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis — that’s Model UN in a nutshell. An event whose history stretches back to the mid-1940s, Model UN was created in order to provide high school and college students with a simulacrum of the real […]

Throw 20 high schoolers in a room and give them eight hours to form coalitions and solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis — that’s Model UN in a nutshell. An event whose history stretches back to the mid-1940s, Model UN was created in order to provide high school and college students with a simulacrum of the real United Nations experience, giving each student a country and committee assignment that serves as the basis for their conference preparation. Students have to use their countries’ policies to collaborate (and argue with) other countries so that they can come to agreements about resolutions to global issues.

I joined CB’s Model UN team towards the beginning of this school year. As a transfer student, I hadn’t had the opportunity to try out for the team in the preceding year and had very little experience with Model UN as a whole. But because the team’s moderator, Ms. Ellen Willow, had seen my participation in the Young Progressive Club, I was able to join the team after emailing her.

Like almost every other academic team, Model UN’s competitions have been massively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas in a normal year we would’ve gone to conferences in-person at various different colleges across California, this year MUN was relegated to the confines of Zoom meetings. As a newcomer to MUN, I still have yet to attend a conference in-person. But our team’s veterans have a lot to say about the differences between virtual and physical conferences.

“The virtual conferences have been more of a different experience,” argues Kamron Soltani (’21). “While at first they were a struggle, just like anything that is online, I found my stride and started to enjoy the more structured version of MUN. Especially when it came to direct messages and resolution writing, the online route was much better. However, nothing can really beat the raw and exuberant debate in person.”

“Conferences being digital is hard,” explains Ms. Willow. “Because of the collaborative nature of the club, there’s a piece missing from the experience.”

That doesn’t mean that everything about this year’s online conferences is terrible. Although I did deal with a lot of technical difficulties during the two conferences CB attended, I still enjoyed the participation that I was able to get in. Despite a myriad of issues with breakout rooms and overall tournament organization, I still found Model UN to be lots of fun. I’d done Speech and Debate in my previous years in high school, which is comparatively far more competitive than Model UN, which encourages delegates to collaborate in order to find solutions to systemic international issues.

But another thing that Model UN taught me has to do with how the actual UN functions; it’s a highly procedural event that requires a lot of waiting for your turn to speak, voting on procedural motions, and listening to other delegates. Even though I found this aspect of Model UN to be a little bit boring after a while, it served as a stark contrast to our hectic unmoderated caucuses, which aren’t headed by any chair. The waiting around created by conference procedure made me realize that taking any international action, no matter how minute it may seem, can take ages to complete.

“Model UN has really taught me how the UN is categorized, from General Assembly to specialized committees, to how a crisis committee functions,” Kamron adds. “I have learned over the years that the UN really isn’t as powerful as one may suggest, but rather, they simply act as a rules committee that employs rules rather than enforcing rules on other countries. Instead, the UN is critical to world peace and diplomatic relations; however, when it comes to war and other situations, the UN is not too effective.”

Although the UN doesn’t necessarily do everything they’re potentially capable of, Model UN still encourages students to gain a much deeper insight into global issues than we usually learn in school. It forces us to try and understand the perspectives of other countries, even and especially ones whose viewpoints are radically different from that of the United States.

“If you’re thinking of joining the team next year, I think it’s an excellent club. It’s a multidisciplinary club that lets you bring in your strengths and develop new skills you didn’t even know you could do when you’re in high school,” Ms. Willow says. “For me, it’s also a club that involves real-world learning. For students who want to understand what’s going on in the world and international relations, this is a great way to do that.”

Overall, I found the Model UN experience to be pretty enjoyable, despite being a little bit repetitive at times. Collaborating with delegates from like minded countries to create resolutions regarding complex foreign policy issues has proven to be an extremely fun experience that I can’t wait to continue into next year, hopefully in-person.

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